Wendy Liebmann, founder and ceo of WSL Strategic Retail, travelled to Paris over the Holiday break where she visited “one of the most extraordinary retail design experiences in recent times.” Here, the lowdown on the Hermès store in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, in her own words.

This renowned luxury fashion retailer has transformed what was once the swimming pool of an adjacent hotel into a jaw dropping retail experience. While you may wonder how relevant it is for your business, take our word for it, it is. If for no other reason, it is pure inspiration that challenges us all to think beyond the obvious.

The entrance from the street is through a small flower shop (a store within a store) filled with orchids. The low ceiling, wooden walls and pale stone floors create a tunnel-like effect.

Shoppers emerge from the garden shop to stand at the top of a dramatic staircase. The staircase cascades down into what was once the swimming pool of the Hotel Lutetia.

Hanging from the ceiling, like gigantic hot air balloons, are intricately woven wooden pavilions. Wrapped around the pavilions are three floors of merchandise. Each pavilion features an edited selection of product, such as fashion accessories and home décor.

Beautiful leather chairs highlight what Hermès is best know for, its leather. Inside the pavilion feels very intimate, and yet you can see the entire store and what it has to offer.

Curved wooden shelves fit snuggly against the woven wooden walls. Around the store’s perimeter accessories and clothing for women and men are simply, elegantly presented. There are even horse saddles – iconic symbols of what the Hermès family first designed.

What Works:

» Drama and surprise makes this experience unique. While clearly designed to showcase a luxury brand, the learning is relevant for all retail.

» Bold use of space creates an OMG moment — emerging from a confined area that opens out at the top of the staircase to reveal the first view of the pavilions.

» The clever use of shape and materials (curved walls and shelves, leather, wood, stone) to highlight and merchandise products, and reinforce the brand’s leather goods heritage.

What Doesn’t Work:

» A cup of tea is 14 Euros (about $20). However, it does enable those who can’t afford a $10,000 handbag to enjoy the experience too.